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Unintentional Cascades

I climbed the La Luz trail on the west side of Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains on a mid-Summer Sunday in 2007. I’d been taking the Sandia Tram up above the 10,000′ mark nightly for a couple of weeks prior, getting ready for my third attempt on Colorado’s Mount Elbert. I came up short two years prior, getting altitude sickness at about the 13,000′ mark.

I thought, having spent hours above 10,000′ in the preceding weeks, I was ready to climb up, but at 8,850′, about nine miles in, I hit the wall. Every step upward felt like the worst hangover I’d ever had. so I turned back. I ran out of water three miles short of the tram station and stumbled in the lot dangerously dehydrated. I have not felt right since that day.

 

Looking Down La Luz From 8850'

Looking Down La Luz From 8850′

A year later, on June 11th, while being tested for multiple sclerosis, I was told I had Lyme disease antibodies. Four day later while hiking Chapel Falls, I was bit by a deer tick, I developed a spiral rash on my thigh, and since I had the sense to photograph how it progressed during my first course of antibiotics, I don’t have to spend too much time arguing with doctors about it.

Coming undone from polite society has been a rough ride, but in many ways I’ve been lucky to be discarded. I have gone where I wanted, photographing, writing, and digging into topics I’d have never mastered had I remained in the workforce. The cascade of changes has been … interesting, to say the least.

Chapel Falls 1st Cascade

Chapel Falls 1st Cascade

 

I owned a small engineering consulting firm and I was in New Mexico due to a network implementation for a Metaswitch customer. My business was voice, video, and data for small to medium service provides. I still employ the skills I developed during the decade I did that sort of thing, but the world has changed, so now it’s cloud hosting, VPNs, and Adversary Resistant Computing that fill my time, at least on the technology front.

Chapel Falls 2nd Cascade

Chapel Falls 2nd Cascade

I first got interested in counter-terrorism science in early 2009, thanks to Chet Uber, the founder of Project VIGILANT. That only lasted six months before that organization’s reckless operations became too much for me. But ever since then I’ve kept an eye on that area, developing a practice in the analysis of social networks and infrastructure.

Chapel Falls 3rd Cascade

Chapel Falls 3rd Cascade

I thought I could close the door on that unfortunate episode, now that Chelsea Manning is to be freed, but a month ago I published Fact Checking @LouiseMensch On @Wikileaks and this has led to one of those cascades of unintended consequences. A few days ago I made a California Legal Research Request and thanks to this someone with a big civil case noticed me, and after years of hourly engagements I just received my first big contingency case.

I’m still very interested in Dark Mountain’s Eight Principles Of Uncivilization, but constantly looking over my shoulder on behalf of our species is putting a crick in my neck. It’s time to focus on what’s in front of me and see if I am actually in a position to dig out from a decade of poor health.

 

I never approve comments from any of you to protect you from unwanted attention, but I want to take a moment to acknowledge the value of those occasional whispers, and the changes they bring.

 

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Firming Things Up

One of the big issues with renewables is the need for firming – production is intermittent while needs are more or less on a curve matching the human activity curve. Solar is a good match for air conditioning and heating in areas that are cold and sunny, hydro at large scale is good for dispatchable generation and can also serve as a baseload source in the right situation. But wind is famously finicky. So this article on compressed air storage is pretty exciting.

Hydro systems are often paired with pumped storage, where reservoirs are filled when power is available and used for peak generation, now Hydrostor is combining air and water for storage. The combination of wind, water, and suitable heights for pumped storage aren’t all that common, but places that have wind, water, and places where underground chambers can be built are much more available. This sounds really promising

According to Spector, “The Terra solution is highly customizable and allows customers to pick the power-to-energy ratio. For systems of 200 megawatts or more, VanWalleghem said, Hydrostor can deliver 6 to 8 hours of duration on a turnkey installed basis of $150 per kilowatt-hour.”

So $30 million gets a peaker plant that can store night generated wind in Texas, where capacity is such that sometimes operators have to pay the grid to haul excess power away, and it can be turned into $0.20/kwh peak electricity. Recover cost in 3,000 hours, if there are a hundred days of six hour peak heat in summers, that’s five years, and lifetimes on utility scale systems are measured in decades.

A 200 megawatt plant will support a western city of a hundred thousand, but it would be a much bigger deal here – Capetown, South Africa, with a population roughly five times that size.

Capetown

Capetown

Wind is a big deal in South Africa, almost no capacity in 2012, two gigawatts now, and another three gigawatts coming. I’m not sure what fifty five million there need in terms of power, life is very different than California. Our 2kw/house metric is much higher than their requirements, perhaps by a factor of ten.

Hydrostor’s work thus far has been with fresh water. When they do their first saltwater system I’ll get really interested. If there is a deep cavern into which salt water enters, that means there is natural pressure – which can be used for osmotic desalination or maybe a graphene system. South Africa could really use more fresh water.

South African Climate

South African Climate

 

Hopefully we’ve managed to avoid War With North Korea, at least for this weekend, but I’m still thinking about Functional Triage. I like South Africa’s industrialization and their isolation from the problems in the northern hemisphere. They need to focus on renewable investments, but with the added calculus that things up north might go irreparably sideways, as we came so near to doing this weekend.

 

War With North Korea

SCROTUS Donald Trump is rushing pell mell into a confrontation with North Korea. I spent a little time reading on their capabilities in an effort to understand precisely how foolish this really is. First, a little geography: The capital of the north, Pyongyang, is the little burg at the upper left, while the south’s capital, Seoul, is a massive metropolis. The distance from the DMZ to the large highway ringing the city is about twenty miles.

Korean DMZ

Korean DMZ

North Korea has a massive military, but much of their equipment is very dated. Their best tanks are derivatives of the middle Cold War era Soviet T-72, while South Korea has a derivative of the U.S. M1 Abrams which is being replaced by a brand new indigenous design, the K2 Black Panther.

The north can strike Seoul from behind the DMZ using the Koksan self propelled gun, but this open top vehicle is an up-gunned World War II design. Contrast that with the Samsung K9 Thunder, today’s top global choice for the standard 155mm NATO artillery round. This mobile howitzer is notable for its companion reloading vehicle, the K10. They can dock and reload without opening up, an advantage that no other system offers.

The K-21 IFV is South Korea’s latest light armor platform. Most vehicles in this class are armed with 25mm or 30mm guns, but the K-21 packs a domestic 40mm design that apparently evolved from the venerable Bofors 40mm. A trend across the industry, it’s also got rubber tracks rather than steel, which are lighter, quieter, and easier on the crew. An up-gunned version carrying a 105mm NATO standard caliber weapon can defeat all but the newest of the North Korean tanks.

 

I follow military acquisitions and could go on about this stuff all day, but we’ll stop here, noting that South Korea is arguable the top global armored vehicle builder, maintaining qualitative superiority in any type they construct and numerical parity with the front line systems of the DPRK.

U.S. Forces Korea have also been continuously present since the fighting ended in 1953, with on average 28,500 troops present at any given time. Some times we post tripwire forces, which this command clearly is, but it also packs a serious punch of its own.

 

What Trump is focused on is the upcoming nuclear test, which may happen on April 15th. The test location is in the far northeast of the country, far away from nosy southerners, and close to Japan, another country on the DPRK’s list of enemies. Assuming that there is a U.S. or Chinese strike that fully eliminates DPRK’s nuclear weapons, we’re still going to have a conventional mess on the DMZ, just like things were in the early 1950s. I already covered some of the regional implications in And Yet There Are Faster Ways To Die.

If the Chinese decide to strike North Korea’s nuclear weapons they can also basically shut the country down, as they are the source of 90% of the DPRK’s oil imports. If the U.S. acts unilaterally and offends the Chinese, that oil keeps flowing and things could drag on for a while.

We really don’t to trigger this. North Korea is a Hermit Kingdom with a third generation leader who is just thirty three years old. We can’t predict what they will do but even with a technically inferior army they are close enough to Seoul to make an incursion that will leave a lot of casualties, both civilian and military.

 

Part of the reason the Cold War ended was Desert Storm. Iraq’s army had much experience from the eight year Iran-Iraq War and modern Soviet equipment. Our forces rolled right over them in five short weeks. Korea would be harder due to proximity to population areas and good terrain for defense.

But a battle with North Korea today isn’t going to have the same impact in terms of demonstrating superiority of western weapons systems to the point it reorders the world order. China is rising economically and militarily, a battle in their back yard will just encourage faster production.

 

I see no news about any test in North Korea today. Hopefully we’ve navigated around this particular quagmire and the rumors of imminent arrests for some of Trump’s entourage prove to be true, which should put a damper on his adventurous nature.

And Yet There Are Faster Ways To Die

Yesterday’s Twitter hissy fit over our use of a GBU-43/B MOAB in Afghanistan combined with the friction with North Korea, as reported in the amazingly well connected @KGSNightWatch, set me to thinking about quicker means for us to end ourselves than the slow roast we’ve already set in motion.

We had already detonated 2,053 nuclear weapons by 1998 but since the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty all tests have been underground, including the five North Korean tests that happened after this video ends.

We got plain scared by the results of the 1954 Castle Bravo test, a six megaton test that yielded fifteen, because we didn’t understand there was a fusion path for lithium 7, and only nine short years later the world decided air/space testing was a Really Bad Idea™.

 

Since then, we’ve shifted to constraining ourselves to developing stuff that inhibits others delivering weapons. Basically we have about three dozen Ground Based Interceptors on the west coast and the trend seems to be counting on Aegis Combat Systems and the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 to knock down uninvited ballistic missiles.

Missile Defense Systems

Missile Defense Systems

This missile defense stuff is all still really theoretical. Tests are few, expensive, and results have been mixed. We don’t really have a plan for submarine launched cruise missiles but the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated whole classes of weapons.

But North Korea is not a signatory to any of these treaties and they are slowly standing up a nuclear capability. This happened while we were naming them part of the Axis of Evil and blundering into Bush’s adventure in Iraq. Like a Cape buffalo surrounded by lions, we focused on one and the others got up to things we didn’t see coming.

 

North Korea can’t nuke San Francisco. They can’t nuke Honolulu. They can maybe hit 7th Fleet HQ at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. Their current best has a yield equal to the weapons the U.S. produced in 1945.

Yokosuka 20 Kiloton Strike

Yokosuka 20 Kiloton Strike (NUKEMAP)

I have zero confidence that Little Fingers has the right moves given that the DPRK is surely going to test another nuclear weapon tomorrow. China has moved six divisions of troops to its border with North Korea with the announced intent of ensuring that there are not a flood of refugees crossing their border. They also have a credible plan to put an end to North Korea’s test facilities, which is something the U.S. and South Korea lack.

Another grandstanding effort, like the theatrical strike against a forewarned Syrian airfield, or the drop of a MOAB in Afghanistan, seems likely. The most foolish step would be treating this as a chance to employ a B-61 Dial-A-Yield nuke, specifically the B-61 Mod 11 bunker buster.

 

The assessment of the premier geopolitical threat monitor is simple and clear:

NightWatch concurs with the judgment that the North Koreans are not bluffing about retaliating for any kind of attack against them.

The scariest part of all of this? America’s recto-cranial inversion, which predates Little Fingers, keeps us strutting like the only superpower, but ignoring stuff where we don’t have a direct interface. The relationship between India (110 nukes) and Pakistan (130 nukes) is always some flavor of tense, but in recent months there have been reports in Night Watch that indicate they went right up to the red line of a rapidly evolving ground war and strong potential for an exchange.

Now take a look at this China-centric population cartogram.They have four neighbors with nuclear weapons, two are at each other’s throats, the U.S. is showing strong signs of moving against North Korea, and doing so because we have a leader as isolated and strange as Kim thanks to meddling from nuclear armed neighbor number four.

China-centric Population Cartogram

China-centric Population Cartogram

 

There is no such thing as a limited nuclear exchange where India and Pakistan are concerned. If they each show some restraint and only use half of their arsenals we lose half of our ozone layer, a couple years of Canadian and Russia wheat production, and the initial ten million killed directly would be joined by another billion famine victims.

These projections stop where the effects of smoke in the atmosphere end. A billion dead of starvation are the unlucky one seventh when all of us are facing that possibility. We are already precariously balanced when it comes to food, we lose all of the Mideast and North Africa in this scenario, those places teeter on the edge of ungovernability now when there are relatively minor disturbances in wheat supplies.

 

The area south of Africa’s Great Green Wall would be the best place to ride out such a catastrophe, far away from fallout of all sorts, from economic to political to radioactive.

Sobering, isn’t it? We already have the means to create an extinction level event for our species and we are stumbling that direction, led by a man with a psychopath’s regard for cause and effect.

East Beringia Genetic Continuity

Genetic Continuity In East Beringia

Genetic Continuity In East Beringia

Study reveals 10,000 years of genetic continuity in northwest North America is an interesting article, but I’d quibble with the regional description – because it overlaps with East Beringia.

We also know that we’re A Hundred Centuries Off – humans have been in this area for 24,000 years, not the 14,000 year number previously cited. That’s a massive gap between the oldest human fossil and the tiny snippet of human activity from 22,000 BC – some linear cut marks inside the jaw bone of a horse, made during the butchering process.

 

Time matters and so do names. Alaska? Less than sixty years old. Canada? A century and a half. United States? Less than two and a half centuries and given what I see on the news I wonder if we’re going to make that mark, or if internal pressures are going to cause us to fly to bits.

But cultures have been going extinct here from the minute our species first crossed from Asia. We know less about the Americans because five hundred years ago their network contacted the Europeans, and when two large networks collide one will come to dominate the other. Among writing systems that were here, we’ve only managed to decipher Mayan.

Europeans have left marks on the Americas that time will find difficult to erase, at least not without another planet wide glaciation, and that would take the right combination of plate tectonics and Earth orbit, perhaps one we’ll never reach again.

Examples include the Panama Canal, which isn’t a natural waterway, so it won’t fill with sediment.  Bingham Canyon Mine‘s pit is three square miles and over half a mile deep, with no natural explanation. But whomever our successors might be, they will marvel over the Crazy Horse Memorial. I saw this in person nearly forty years ago and from this satellite image it seems they’ve made some progress.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

 

What enduring mark(s) have I left on this planet?

Certainly not any of my writing; this is all electronic ephemera, nothing I’ve done in this century has been committed to print. A vast majority of our culture exists as ones and zeroes on magnetic media. As the size and speed of the internet grow, more and more of the central material lives in dynamic ram. Pull the plug, say with an electromagnetic pulse from a high altitude multi-megaton warhead, and it’s just gone.

Taking a few moments to think on it, the only thing that’s really going to outlast me are unnecessarily durable goods from our consumer society. How many plastic bags have I received and promptly discarded in my fifty years on this planet? Certainly one a day, till we all got hip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a few years ago. This concept of discarding first came up in a symbolic fashion in Societal Simulacra’s Rest Frame.

Maybe I should give up this blogging and teach myself flint knapping. I can start making Clovis points and tossing them into random caves in the area, putting my own spin on archeology here.

Ellef Ringnes Island’s Fossil Methane Seeps

I often mention Wrangel Island, the last redoubt of the mammoths, and tonight I found another interesting article about a different location in the Arctic – Ellef Ringnes Island. Roughly 1,400 miles apart, this Canadian island holds fossils from the Cretaceous, the geological period ended by the Chicxulub Asteroid.

Wrangel & Ellef Ringnes Islands

Wrangel & Ellef Ringnes Islands

Ellef & Amund Ringnes Islands

Ellef & Amund Ringnes Islands

Isachsen Station

Isachsen Station

The only sign of human activity is a rough half mile runway, the remains of an Arctic weather station effort operated during the Cold War.

But there are much older things to be found here …

Fossil Methane Seep

Fossil Methane Seep

There are 130 fossil methane seeps scattered over 10,000 square kilometers, a legacy of a rapid release of methane about 110 million years ago. The formations are carbonates from the shells of animals that grew there, which are more durable than the shale that makes up the rest of the area.

Preserved evidence of methane outgassing at the same time over an area this size, combined with knowledge of the overall size of this shale layer, provides some sense of the scope of the sudden injection of a greenhouse gas 20x as potent as carbon dioxide. There are multiple instances where sudden releases have changed Earth’s climate dramatically in a geological blink of an eye, most notably the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maxium 55 million years ago.

 

This ancient event matters because it’s further proof that large areas can suddenly produce lasting flows of methane. Scientists have been fretting over methane hydrates and the Atlantification of the Arctic could create conditions for another massive outgassing. Signs of this already exist on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Similar events have started in the Pacific and there are 500 methane plumes on the U.S. east coast. The East Siberian Shelf’s outgassing has been a concern for a while now.

It’s been a long time since a single species changed the atmospheric and oceanic chemistry to the point that it passed into history. The Great Oxygenation Event is clearest. Vascular plants and bacteria that couldn’t attack lignin are defining characteristics of the Carboniferous period. Other dramatic changes are attributed to large volcanic provinces and impact events.

What is happening now seems like it will be the beginning of something as disruptive as the PETM. The Quarternary had consistent 180ppm – 280ppm CO2, and now we’re at 400+ ppm and no way to predict how far that is going to go.

 

We’ve had four hundred generations in villages and just two to start considering what the climate change our species has induced is going to mean. I am in no way certain that Dark Mountain‘s ideas, the Eight Principles of Uncivilization, are going to work. I have spent a decade, one fifth of my life, pondering this progression, trying various ways to resist what I have come to accept is an unstoppable set of causes and conditions.

I shouldn’t be awake at 2:22 AM, but once I start down rabbit holes like this, I have a hard time finding my way back to the surface.

The Anthropocene Extinction

This four minute video is amazingly well done. If what I’ve been writing about concerns you and you have trouble communicating the particulars to friends, just share this with them.